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Posts Tagged ‘Newspaper Next’

Boston_Globe logoI had a twofold reaction to Thursday’s news that the Boston Globe was trying to reinvent itself:

  1. Another fucking newspaper reinvention? How many times have we heard this?
  2. I hope it succeeds. Someone has to.

If you don’t want to read my whining/ranting about previous reinvention failures, skip to the “why I’m optimistic” heading, where I share my optimism for the Globe’s project. I am optimistic, but I need to share that frustration, too.

Why I’m frustrated

In both reactions, my thoughts turned to the American Press Institute. The current incarnation of API is helping the Globe, and I’ll address that in the optimistic section. And I was heavily involved in an initiative by an earlier version of API to lead reinvention of the newspaper business.

A decade ago, API developed a blueprint for newspaper reinvention (we called it a “Blueprint for Transformation”). Seriously, we published that advice in 2006, the year newspaper ad revenues first started to drop, by a tiny 1.7 percent. Ad revenue has dropped every year since, often by double-digit percentages and the Newspaper Association of America hasn’t even bothered to report the figures for 2014 and 2015. Those annual reports usually came out in April, and the most recent revenue report on the NAA website was published April 18, 2014.

I worked for API on the Newspaper Next project, and my colleagues and I presented those principles and techniques of reinvention more than a hundred times to newspaper audiences around the globe, from one-hour overviews for press associations to two-day workshops for specific newspapers and large newspaper companies. We produced at least three N2 reports, one of which I wrote.

Newspaper executives who proclaimed themselves eager to reinvent their organizations applauded our message and spent thousands of dollars (we charged $11,000 plus expenses for a one-day workshop) sharing the message with their staffs and executive teams. But their cultural and organizational inertia was so powerful that they took only tentative partial steps that didn’t come close to reinvention. (more…)

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American Press Institute logoI get a sense of déjà vu in the American Press Institute’s release this morning of a pair of reports on innovation in news organizations.

An important event in my career was the 2006 release of API’s report Newspaper Next: A Blueprint for Transformation, followed by my efforts to promote and teach the principles of the report to executives and organizations in the newspaper industry. As I noted five years later, and as API’s report today acknowledges, N2 fall far short of transforming the newspaper industry. (We’ll never know if the approach outlined in the report would have helped transform a newspaper company or the whole organization. The industry treated it as a buffet, tasting a few dishes it offered, when it was really offering a new diet. I know of no news organization that came close to attempting the transformation that N2 advocated.)

API’s latest effort to guide innovation in the news industry is a pair of reports released this morning, A culture-based strategy for creating innovation in news organizations by Jeff Sonderman and Tom Rosenstiel, and The best practices for innovation within news organizations by Craig Silverman.

I recommend both reports as important reading for leaders in news operations seeking to be more successful at innovation, especially if organizational culture is an issue for you. But I guess I’m jaded enough that I won’t predict a lot of cultural change as a result of the reports. N2 offered broader, deeper and more specific advice for changing a company. But maybe almost a decade later, some companies will be better able to use the advice API is offering today on workplace culture.

Adding to the N2 echoes of these reports are four mentions of Clayton Christensen in the Silverman report. The Sonderman/Rosenstiel report mentions API’s partnership with Christensen for Newspaper Next, which made heavy use of his principles of disruptive innovation. Between them, today’s reports make 10 mentions of some form of the word disrupt. I’m not sure what to make of this. Christensen’s theories apply to the news business as strongly now as they did in 2006, but I’ll be surprised if newspaper companies ever start operating by them. (The API reports do not share N2’s newspaper focus, studying digital startups as well as legacy media companies.)

I suspect the advice in the API reports might be more effective with news startups, building innovative structures and processes from scratch, rather than in established companies trying to overcome existing cultural problems without screwing up declining products that produce their revenue. (more…)

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Clayton Christensen, photo linked from API

Clayton Christensen‘s diagnosis of how the newspaper industry blew its Newspaper Next opportunity is dead-on.

In an interview with the American Press Institute’s Millie Tran, Christensen discusses several new disruptive challenges and opportunities in the media. But this exchange hit home with me (I added some links):

What did you think of the industry’s reception of the ambitious Newspaper Next project that you worked on with the American Press Institute back in 2006? Today, would you prescribe different things or in different ways?

CHRISTENSEN: My sense of the Newspaper Next project is that people read it as an interesting, academic exercise but somehow, whether it was our fault or theirs, the report was consumed at the level of the brain and not the heart.

Most newspapers decided that might happen to others but it doesn’t happen to us. And on a day-to-day basis, you don’t feel it until it’s over. And now there are a lot of people who are saying oh my gosh this really is happening in many ways. The degrees of freedom that are available are far more limited now than they were. (more…)

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This post was published originally on the old Newspaper Next site on the N2 Blog, Aug. 30, 2007. It was one of several posts in my API days dealing with the Newspaper Next project, an API partnership with Clayton Christensen. I blogged last week about Christensen’s most recent insights on the news businessBreaking News, in the Nieman Reports. I have updated the links. Thanks to Elaine Clisham for reminding me of my contributions to the N2 Blog.  

At a recent reception, a colleague scorned efforts by the newspaper industry in the mid-1990s to appeal to young adults.

I could join that colleague (a former newspaper editor) in criticism of many things newspapers have tried in pursuit of young readers, but he was way off in one point that he made: He said newspapers were crazy to pursue nonconsumers. Who, he asked, ever succeeded by trying to sell to nonconsumers?

“Can you imagine the automobile industry targeting people who don’t drive?” he asked.

In a social setting where I didn’t feel like arguing, I let the comment pass. But it’s a point of view that inhibits innovation.

Let’s flip that editor’s question around: What business ever grew without winning over some nonconsumers?

(more…)

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This post was published originally on the old Newspaper Next site on the N2 Blog, Aug. 13, 2007. It was one of several posts in my API days dealing with the Newspaper Next project, an API partnership with Clayton Christensen. I just blogged about Christensen’s most recent insights on the news businessBreaking News, in the Nieman Reports.

I have updated or removed outdated links (or used links from the Internet Archive, where I found the post). I have not checked to see that the links that remain active still show the features I described. I have not bothered to provide updates on the people mentioned here, though I know some are in different jobs. Thanks to Elaine Clisham for reminding me of my contributions to the N2 Blog. This was the precursor to a more detailed database report I produced for N2.

Databases are an important tool for media companies to use in doing more jobs for our communities.

The primary job newspapers have done for generations has been to tell the news of the community, the nation and the world. News remains an important job, but as we seek to build larger audiences we need to do more jobs. Steve Gray, managing director of Newspaper Next, expresses one of those key jobs as “Help me get answers about this place.”

One of the most encouraging signs that media companies understand the expanded role they need to play is the growing use of databases to provide answers about communities.

The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Data Center provides a wide range of answers about the community: sex offenderssmoking complaintsodds of winning at Ohio River casinoscrime statisticshome prices. Databases also help you do better at your core job of telling the news. For instance, the featured database at the DataCenter now shows Northern Kentucky bridges with structural problems. (more…)

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This post was published originally on the American Press Institute site on my old Training Tracks blog, May 31, 2007. It was one of several posts in my API days dealing with the Newspaper Next project, an API partnership with Clayton Christensen. I just blogged about Christensen’s most recent insights on the news businessBreaking News, in the Nieman Reports. I have updated or removed outdated links.

The colleague’s lament is familiar:

“Our staff here has been dramatically slashed (we’re down to two news reporters on day shift). It’s quite a change for our paper, which has gained some measure of acclaim for the time, staff we devote to special projects work (which now appears to be a bygone era).

“Unfortunately, smaller staff size is the new reality. One of the things I’m preparing to pitch to upper management is a radical review of what we cover, how we cover it, etc. I know I will face resistance because, well, some people think the approach to community news coverage is a static endeavor. But honestly, with two reporters we can’t be everywhere. And if we try to be everywhere just to please people, rather than focus on what’s really needed, the entire product will suffer.

“Do you have any examples of papers facing the same situation, staff size, which adapted and prospered? Or, do you have any advice?” (more…)

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This post was published originally on the American Press Institute site on my old Training Tracks blog, April 20, 2007. It was one of several posts in my API days dealing with the Newspaper Next project, an API partnership with Clayton Christensen. I just blogged about Christensen’s most recent insights on the news businessBreaking News, in the Nieman Reports. I have updated or removed outdated links.

Visiting Bryce Canyon in 2007

I’ve done some exciting and inspiring travel in the past month.

I visited Bryce Canyon, where centuries of sedimentation followed by tectonic upheaval followed by wind and frost erosion left the earth in fascinating, massive columns of sandstone called hoodoos.

I visited Mainz, Germany, where in a darkened room of the Gutenberg Museum I looked at the first editions of the Bible printed with movable type and even older and more ornate Bibles crafted by hand.

I thought about the modern newspaper in both of these places where nature and man displayed these ancient treasures. (more…)

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